Ah, Man Vs. Wild has returned for another season on Discovery. I've written about my love for the show many times before so I won't repeat myself. Truthfully, I had no idea the series returned tonight until this past weekend. I perused the 'scheduled recordings' on my DVR and saw Man Vs. Wild scheduled for Monday at 9PM. The advertisements for the new season have been scarce or non-existent (a brief google search for the correct spelling of Gyllenhaal had a few articles about the special Gyllenhaal premiere episode). In fact, I happened upon season premieres the past two seasons because Discovery, seemingly, opted against a marketing campaign. Once upon time, Man Vs. Wild dominated the television sets in dorm rooms across the United States of America. Now, ads and promos are as rare as Siberian tigers.
The season commenced with Hollywood actor Jake Gyllenhaal joining forces with Bear Grylls for some survival in Iceland. Will Ferrell and Bear tackled Sweden together two or three years ago, and Will famously ate the Twinkie meant for two days survival in the first seconds of the journey. The Ferrell/Bear adventure had its moments but the episode was boring. Bear kept things simple for Will, so none of the trademark insanity occurred during the hour. I didn't have any sort of expectation for Gyllenhaal's episode. In fact, I didn't know where they were until the episode started. With Ferrell, I figured his people demanded the challenges be kept simple. I figured the same would be true for Gyllenhaal, that the episode would unfold rather dully with simple challenges and scenes involving Jake consuming insane food.
Well, "Men Vs. Wild with Jake Gyllenhaal" had more excitement and adventure than I imagined. The weather conditions were the worst in the series history, as far as I recollect, and the challenges were daring, courageous and exciting. Gyllenhaal emerged from the episode with more personality than his ten years on the red carpet gave him. The Icelandic landscape gave the episode a personality the Will Ferrell episode lacked due to its solemn Swedish landscape. Anywho, as always, here are my thoughts on the episode:
--The episode began with an overview of where they're going. The same Icelandic volcanoes that produce magma deep within the earth caused the volcanic ash that crippled Europe last spring. The volcanoes remain active. Gyllenhaal waited for the helicopter to lift him into the Icelandic terrain and he talked about his fear of heights and his excitement for the journey. He also mentioned the absolute trust he has in Bear to lead him safely through the landscape and terrain.
--Jake's attitude is healthy; he's in a healthy mental place, which is vital because survival's 90% mental. Bear and Jake wander through the snow. They have two days to reach a certain point. Bear quipped that helicopters usually lift men out of trouble instead of dropping them into trouble. Their first challenge is a steep snowy and icy hill. Bear instructs Jake to dig his shoes into the snow to create makeshift steps for a safe ascent. The two ascend the hill without issue until the surface becomes more icy but Bear has a solution and nothing bad happens.
--The real fun begins when the blizzard begins. Truly, the weather conditions have never been worse. The picture is sometimes terrible. The wind batters and beats Bear, Jake and his crew. The camera men constantly wipe snow and ice from the lens. During the blizzard, Bear and Jake have to walk through snow that covers the volcano beneath them, so the surface is dangerous because holes could be everywhere as result of the heat. Bear uses a rope to tie he and Jake together so neither lose the other in the complete white out of the blizzard. The duo successfully traverse the dangerous surface without issue.
--Of course, the blizzard's intensity hasn't lessened. The wind continues to whip and beat the men. Between the bad picture and the snowy, icy wind, it's difficult to find the two men in the frame. Bear compares the winds to hurricane force winds. They continue the journey despite the harsh conditions and, eventually, find relief from the wind for a few minutes. Bear and Jake try to salvage a dead sheep for food; however, the sheep's rotted so they leave. The day soon dies, so the duo work together to dig a snow hole for their night's shelter. Bear makes Brokeback Mountain jokes as they dig. Jake laughs and hopes that their night won't resemble Brokeback Mountain. Inside the shelter, they make a hot water with chocolate bits thrown in and eat rations of crackers (or biscuits as the Europeans call them).
--The next morning, Bear finds breakfast for them. They consume a root and two worms. The worm scene is the best part of the episode. As Jake chews his breakfast, Bear deadpans, "first worm?" The old pro doesn't even grimace as he chews the worm because he's eaten nearly everything under the sun that is edible. With their fast broken, they cross a river. The crossing's standard Man Vs. Wild--clothing's put into the back packs so it's kept dry, and the crossing's done with the flesh exposed. They cross, dress quickly and continue their journey.
--For the final challenge, Bear and Jake need to cross another river. Of course, they're no where near the river. Their only chance is a rope that connects both sides, and the distance is 150 feet (according to Bear). Jake has a fear of heights so the task is daunting. Bear makes his way to the other side easily. Jake also makes it to the other side without any problem. The challenge bonds the two men together, and they hug and celebrate with another. In the opening minutes of the episode, Bear remarked that Jake's the most fit celebrity in Hollywood. I doubt many other male actors have the upper body strength to travel 150 feet on rope above a deep gorge. I digress. The two get to their rescue point and fly away from Iceland. Jake hopes that his friendship with Bear has just begun.
The episode certainly had its moments. Any time Bear's with someone else, the insanity won't be on par with an average episode of the show. I had a good time watching the episode, though. The white-out was equally mesmerizing and freaky. The blizzard gave the episode a visceral intensity that very few episodes of the show have had. Jake Gyllenhaal did some awesome things in the episode, and Bear had some fantastic one-liners and his cheerleading act for Jake's various challenges were great. Good episode.
I'll be writing about the entire season again, as per usual (my third season writing about Man Vs. Wild now).
THE YOUTUBE CLIP OF THE WEEK